Green Energy vs. Coal Jobs: South Africa's Transition Challenge

Green Energy vs. Coal Jobs: South Africa’s Transition Challenge

By Sakhile Dube

Mpumalanga, South Africa – As South Africa shifts towards a greener future, the decommissioning of coal-fired power plants has sparked both hope and concern, particularly in regions like Mpumalanga, where coal mining has long been a pillar of the local economy.

South Africa is set to close a number of power stations by 2030, on which the Komati Power Station has already been impacted. The shutdown, while necessary to meet net zero goals, has left thousands facing uncertainty. The plight of the Komati community highlights the immediate impact of such closures, with job losses rippling through the local economy.

The numbers paint a clear picture with about four hundred thousands of jobs at risk, representing a significant portion of Mpumalanga’s workforce. From coal miners to transport workers, the transition threatens the livelihoods of many, including those in informal sectors, traditionally dominated by women.

Key stakeholders, including government officials and industry leaders, are grappling with these complexities. Questions of justice loom large, as policymakers seek to balance environmental imperatives with socio-economic concerns.

It is not all doom and gloom for Mpumalanga, the promise of renewable energy projects offers an opportunity, albeit with challenges. While construction phases bring a surge in employment, the long-term picture is more nuanced, with maintenance roles offering fewer positions. This reality highlights the urgency of not just creating jobs but ensuring their sustainability.

some promising projects are beginning to materialise. This includes the establishment of training facilities and microgrid manufacturing which stands out as a particularly promising initiative. This is a container with solar panels, batteries and an inverter. It costs around R2 million to set up and can power around 60 homes.

Yet, challenges persist, time is of the essence, with only six years remaining to significantly reduce coal’s dominance in the energy mix. The path ahead is fraught with obstacles, from bureaucratic hurdles to economic uncertainties. The lessons learned from Komati’s decommissioning serve as cautionary tales, highlighting the need for careful planning and robust implementation strategies.

“We need to continue consulting and communicating more on the ground to empower communities in the just transition process. So one of the key questions is how do we determine priorities within this Just Transition Framework and align to its principles to ensure we address both net zero and socio-economic goals? “says Amali Raschke, an Independent Strategic Consultant on Infrastructure, Energy and Just Transition.







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